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NFL AM: League Continues London Expansion, Adds Fourth Game for 2017

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The NFL might not ever be ready to move a team overseas full time, but that won’t stop them from playing a full home slate abroad sooner or later.

The league announced on Friday that it would be adding another game to the annual slate of London visits in 2017, bringing the total number of games played in England to four next season, or half a team’s home games. The NFL had been playing three London games per year since 2014, and the league’s burgeoning popularity overseas made the move a no-brainer for commissioner Roger Goodell and the league office.

“We continue to be incredibly excited by the passion and love for the NFL shown by our millions of UK fans,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “London is an amazing city. We have had tremendous support from our fans, from Mayor Khan and other government leaders and business partners, and we are looking forward to taking the next step in the UK by playing four games in London next season.”

Next season will mark the 11th straight year that the league has played at least one regular-season game in London. The International Series began in 2007 when the Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium. From 2006-2012, the league played one game per season at Wembley and each game sold out within days, if not hours, of tickets going on sale. It has continued to be a hot ticket through the expansion of the schedule, from one to two for 2013, and then to three games each season for the past three seasons Attendance has been at or near 84,000 people per game for all but one of the now 16 contests that have been played at Wembley Stadium.

This past season also marked the first time that a London game was played at a site other than Wembley, as the league ventured out to Twickenham Stadium, a rugby venue in southwest London, for a game between the Giants and Rams. That game also drew a sellout crowd of nearly 74,000 on October 23. A week later, as if to prove that the league wasn’t oversaturating the market with games abroad, a game between the Redskins and Bengals at Wembley drew 84,448 people, a record crowd for an NFL game played abroad. That alone was enough to get the league, and the city to jump at the possibility of adding one more game to the annual slate in London.

“London staging a fourth NFL game is fantastic news — not only for the millions of sports fans who get to enjoy our iconic stadiums — but also because it confirms our status as the go-to choice for hosting the world’s biggest sporting events,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. “London is the international home of the NFL and staging the equivalent of what would be half an American football team’s home games in the city is a huge step towards my ambition of bringing a franchise to the capital.”

The expansion of the schedule should come as no surprise, however, as this has been in the works for years. In addition to Wembley Stadium and Twickenham, plans are already in place to play two games per year at Northumberland Park, home of the Tottenham Hotspurs soccer club, from 2018 through 2027. There is also a deal in place for at least two games per year at Wembley through 2020 and the Twickenham deal calls for at least three, and as many as five games total to be played at the stadium over the initial three-year agreement. Simple math dictates that’s at least five games in London starting in 2018.

While the schedule continues to grow and the games remain a success, Khan’s ambitious goal of bringing a team to London is still far from fruition, as the logistics of one team playing half of its games in England and the other half in the United States still don’t make much sense, especially considering most teams currently get a bye week before or after their London game to make up for the distance traveled. But there is no denying the continued popularity of the NFL’s annual visits abroad.

It’s why the Jacksonville Jaguars, who average 62,000 fans per home game in the U.S., continue to play one game a year in London, a deal that began in 2013 and currently runs through 2020. Jacksonville continues to average more than 20,000 more fans per game in their visits to London than they do in their home stadium. That and Jags owner Shad Khan’s ties to the city (he owns the Fulham F.C. soccer club) have made the Jaguars a long-rumored target for relocation to London. However, Khan continues to pour money into upgrading Jacksonville’s home facility, including the recent addition of the largest LED screens in the world above each end zone, making a move in the near future highly unlikely.

“This is great news for the Jaguars and the stability of the team in Jacksonville, which has come to embrace London as our home away from home,” Khan said in the statement when the team’s London deal was extended last fall. “Our four-year London initiative has been every bit as rewarding as we anticipated, certainly due in large part to the league’s commitment to the UK and the world class experience that Wembley Stadium has provided the Jaguars, our fans and our partners.”

The Rams were initially the first team to sign a deal to play annually in London, starting in 2012, but they backed out of that deal one year later due to issues with the city of St. Louis and the Edward Jones Dome. However, when owner Stan Kroenke approached the league with a plan to move the team to Los Angeles, part of the relocation deal with the NFL once again gave the Rams one game per year abroad from 2016 through 2018, until their new Los Angeles stadium is completed and opened in 2019. The Rams played in London this season and are scheduled to do so again next season, and are rumored to be slated for the league’s first ever game in China in 2018.

With the Rams off the table for relocation to London, few teams rename that could fit the bill, but the San Diego Chargers, who have by far the worst attendance in the league again this season, drawing an average of 55,488 fans per game or just over 75 percent of their stadium’s capacity. The Oakland Raiders are another team looking at possible relocation, with London a far less likely destination for them than either Las Vegas or Los Angeles.

Along with the Rams and Jaguars hosting their annual game, it was announced that the Miami Dolphins will host the New Orleans Saints in London next season. It will be Miami’s fourth London game, and their third as the host team. The participants in the fourth game are yet to be determined, but participants in all four games are expected to be announced next Tuesday on Facebook Live.

Rumors have the league hoping to put a team in London full-time by 2021, but that remains farfetched because of the logistics. However one thing is for certain, the league itself has found a home away from home in London and the scheduled slate there is only going to continue to grow as will the NFL’s worldwide appeal, and that’s good news for football fans.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys